The film of 2016 will be set in a block of flats.

The past year of two thousand and fifteen has been one of fantastic range in the cinematic landscape; we’ve had record-breaking franchise renewals, animation packed with emotion, and the inevitable slew of mediocre cash-grabs. I’m going to allow some time for the dust to settle (and enough time for some hasty viewing) before I put together a selection of what I deem to be the very best that the past year had to offer. But for now, I’m going to give some time to looking forward to my most anticipated film of the new year.

Despite the title of this post, the film I speak of is unfortunately not Attack the Block 2, sadly because it does not exist. Instead it is High-Rise which is due for release on the 18th March 2016. But what is High-Rise and why am I so keen to see it? Allow me to elaborate.

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The source is a 1975 novel written by renowned author J.G. Ballard. Even if you don’t recognise his name there’s a chance that you’ll recognise his work since he is best known for Empire of the Sun, for which Steven Spielberg helmed the film adaptation. His other association with the film world comes from the controversial adaptation of his novel Crash. I understand that some of you might be still in the dark, so let’s press on.

High-Rise is mainly centred around Dr. Robert Laing, a new occupant of a towering block of flats. A block of flats larger than previously seen and designed to contain all the luxuries of modern life within its walls, from supermarket to swimming pool. Due to varying accommodation standards and a diverse group of tenants, the building itself reflects an economically driven class strata – working class on the lower floors all the way up to the penthouse where the designer of the building itself resides. With this set up, Ballard takes us through the events during a hot summer that sees this carefully structured vertical society break down from the inside. That’s where I’ll end the description because that was enough to get me to pick up the book last year when the adaptation was announced.

This might not appear as the most enticing of cinematic prospects, but I would argue that it is exactly the matching of director Ben Wheatley to the novel that will make this one to watch, and to keep this simple (since this is entirely speculative!) I’m going to break it down to 2 reasons by looking at another of his films.

1 – The darkness of the human psyche…

Wheatley hasn’t quite set out to warm the hearts of viewers with his films thus far, in fact it could be argued he’s deliberately gone for the opposite. His films usually contain some form of fracturing in the minds of his characters, and the main couple in Sightseers are a great example of this as they end up carrying out a series of random grisly murders on their caravanning holiday. As unsettling as this is, perhaps what is most chilling is that the characters have all the outward appearance of normal people. They easily embody the sorts of people you might meet wandering around a National Heritage site, they could easily live down your street, or perhaps across the hall from you…in a block of flats.

2 – …and the unexpected comedic results

The deft trick that Wheatley pulls in Sightseers is handling the absurdity of the scenario. It teeters on the edge of ridiculousness with just enough of a lean that quite often the knee-jerk reaction is one of laughter. Some of the more horrific moments are even deliberately set up for laughs with the expressed intent to make you giggle and then awkwardly stop once your brain has caught up with your eyes. Trust me when I tell you that a cyclist being run over will make you chuckle. Consider then that a recurring element in Ballard’s novel is the many hedonistic parties that are held seemingly one after the other even whilst the society of the building falls apart. Sounds like a gold mine for absurdist humour to me.

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There you have it. Wheatley’s understanding of flawed humans, the darkness in the psyche, and the absurdity of its breakdown should mesh wonderfully with the pseudo-sci-fi setting of Ballard’s novel. A talented cast led by Tom Hiddleston won’t hurt either. If you’ve ever wanted something more from your cinema excursion, come March 18th I recommend you join us at the High-Rise.

But I never wave bye-bye – a film tribute to Bowie

frances ha bowie

On January 10th 2016, it was announced that David Bowie had passed away after an 18 month battle with cancer. Tributes have poured in from an incredible range of people and it’s no surprise given the truly global nature of the immense body of work that he produced during his lifetime. Perhaps the greatest testament to Bowie’s legacy is how timeless his music has become, continually cropping up in all forms of media. I’m fairly certain I first encountered Bowie through films and when one of his tracks appears it never fails to elevate the proceedings.

Remember Inglourious Basterds, Taranatino’s opus on the power of cinema? I cannot imagine Shoshanna’s preparation scene with a better soundtrack than ‘Cat People’. Wes Anderson also owes Bowie for the perfect accompaniment to the closing slow-mo shot from The Life Aquatic in the form of ‘Queen Bitch’. The rocking 80s soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn’t have been complete without a bit of ‘Moonage Daydream’. Getting down in A Knight’s Tale? Only to ‘Golden Years’. The list just goes on and on, there really is nothing like a well-placed Bowie groove. Let me tell you about my favourite one…

Frances Ha tells the story of the titular Frances (the delightful Greta Gerwig), a girl of the age of 27 living in New York with her best friend Sophie. Like many her age, Frances is just merrily bumbling through life when events start to transpire that force her to confront herself. One of these events is Sophie moving out of their apartment which leaves Frances considerably down, so when she finds a new flat with cool New Yorkers Lev and Benji, things are definitely starting to look up. The scene that follows is one of sheer exuberance.

The jaggy rhythm of muted guitar strings comes in, the drums a moment later. The camera pans from looking down the New York street to tracking Frances as she merrily jog-skips along the pavement. The song is David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ and its irrepressible energy powers the scene, fuelling Frances’ flighty movement that goes from jog to leap to twirling carefree dance. I’m certainly not doing the scene justice here, the way the track melds with the images produces a release that is better experienced than described, which is exactly why I have included the clip below. The fact that this scene is a direct homage to one from Leo Carax’s 1986 film Mauvais Sang (which included the same track) simply reinforces that universal Bowie magic, but I’d rather not spend too much time fawning over the scene because that would detract from the larger point I’m aiming at.

What I’m trying to get at is the pure uniqueness of the man’s music. Bowie’s work carries a unique style, a distinct flavour that could only have been produced by an artist who embraced his craft and gave himself over to it. I honestly can’t say more than that, because the fact that so many films of varying origins have found a creative similarity in Bowie’s work says more than I ever could. Sadly, he is now gone, but I am absolutely certain that his music will continue to reappear in films for many generations, providing that cinematic jolt that very few tracks can.

Thank you, David. It won’t be just the world of music that misses you.

bowie salute